LSAT: The Next "Wealth Test" of College Seniors

05/19/2010 02:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Noah Baron J.D., Georgetown University Law Center

A few days ago, I completed the last exams of my junior year. As a rising senior, I now face what I had done my best to postpone until this moment: preparation for the LSAT and, possibly, the GRE as well.

As with the SAT, many will tell you that the test is an accurate predictor of the quality of student you will be. The debate about this rages on - but my personal experience inclines me to disbelieve the notion that six hours of test-taking on one day on the weekend of senior year of high school (or college) will be able to predict performance over the course of four (or even three) years. Yet the LSAT further appears to have avoided a common critique faced by the SAT: its bias towards those with wealth. One Harvard professor referred to the exam as "a wealth test." Such criticisms of the LSAT are decidedly harder to find. Yet that does not make them any less legitimate.

Reminiscent of my face-down with the SAT, I have, next to me on my desk, a pile of books with varying strategies of how to "beat" the LSAT, highly recommended phrases from the staff of the Harvard Crimson to intersperse into my application, and revelations of the "secrets" of law school admissions. Just as in the lead-up to the college admissions process, many of these books tell me little I did not know already: make sure to study, proofread your applications (accompanied by the obligatory horror story of the applicant who used the wrong school name), and, of course, make sure to take a prep course! All of these nuggets of advice are even more emphasized to students applying to law school than those applying to college.

But when I looked online to sign up for one of these lauded prep courses, I found that their cost ranged from $1200 to over $9000 -- with in-class hours ranging from eighty-some to over three-hundred! This is very problematic on more than one level.

First, the vast majority of Americans (even the majority of American college students) cannot afford to blow $1,200 to $9,000 on a prep course. Many of us are already heavily saddled with debt, others simply do not have the cash on-hand, others, perhaps, are spending their money paying their own way through one of the dreaded unpaid internships.

Second, of course, is the problem of the time needed to dedicate to these courses. In addition to the massive amount of cash college seniors are expected to fork over to Kaplan or Princeton Review, we must also dedicate hundreds upon hundreds of hours in order to get our money's worth! While of course dedication and effort should be expected, the problem is that college students have to clock in hours at their job in order to pay for the class in the first place.

But even if a student has chosen not to take the expensive path of a prep course as his or her chosen path to law school, they still face the problem of the sheer amount of time required to prepare for the LSAT. One of these previously-mentioned books suggested that one to two hours of studying each and every day was insufficient -- instead, the book suggested, try to study for four or more hours. What not-obscenely-rich student amongst us has four or more hours to study for the LSAT? Even if college students don't have to pay for the overpriced Kaplan courses, they may still be working to pay for college expenses, or perhaps to pay off the government's new $80,000 tax on lesbianism.

Meanwhile, these lower-class and middle-class students have to compete with those who have the time, effort, and money to not only spend on expensive one-on-one tutoring (exponentially more expensive than the classroom instruction offered) -- but who also do not need to worry about a job to help them pay their bills (whether they be to Kaplan or a bigoted military). And while undoubtedly many of these same people might both be taking a prep course and working as an unpaid intern this summer, it may that unpaid internship that helps them get into law school. The same could not be said, for example, for a job at Starbucks.

If any law school admissions officer is reading this article, I urge you: grade your applications on a socioeconomic curve, and remember that wealth should not be a precondition of acceptance.